Player to Watch: Kid Gonzalez

While growing up in Durban, South Africa, Mark González could scarcely have imagined that before his teenage years were out, he would be a full Chilean international. The precocious winger, still only 19, has flourished under the watchful eye of manager Juvenal Olmos, and already established himself as an integral part of La Roja . Such is the promise shown by the Chilean player that comparisons have already been made with his Brazilian hero Roberto Carlos

Chile's young star talked to about his dizzying rise to fame, his aspirations for the future and how it was he came to be born in South Africa.

"My father (Raul González) played for the Chilean club sides Wanderers and Palestino, as well as the national side. He also played for a while in South Africa, which explains how I came to be born there," said the player. Known for his lightning pace, González took almost no time in making the transition from a park player to national hero, once his opportunity came knocking.

When González was ten years old, his family returned to Chile where his passion for the game really took off. "Everything you could imagine happened to me. I had trials for first division side Wanderers, but that didn't work out. After that I had a spell with a park side. Finally, I got my foot in the door at Valparaíso side Everton, and just when I thought I'd made it, my mother insisted I go back to college" he recollects. "Luckily for me, my father introduced me to the coaching staff at Universidad Católica - one of the country's top teams - and I've been there ever since."

Full speed ahead
Mark González has had lady luck smile on him of late. In a matter of years he has gone from playing for a Sunday league side, to featuring in a team vying for a place at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. After making his way inexorably through the ranks of the U-17 and U-20 teams, he grabbed the headlines last January with goals against Uruguay and Brazil in his sides frustrated bid to qualify for this year's Athens Olympics. Manager Juvenal Olmos saw his enormous potential and invited him to join the senior squad for a series of friendly games.

"It just so happened that one of my colleagues got injured and the boss asked me to travel with the team. I could not believe it. I came on for a few minutes against Costa Rica and then started the next game against Honduras and ended up scoring the winning goal. It was a moment I'll never forget," he remembers fondly.

Since then González's performances have been earning rave reviews at home and abroad. His proudest moment to date was on 30 March 2004, when he scored his side's second goal in their historic victory against Bolivia in La Paz.

His celebration that day was his trademark kiss to the camera. González explains: "It started during a club game against Colo Colo. My mother was sick that day and couldn't come to watch, so when I scored I turned to the cameras and blew her a kiss. It was natural as I've always been close to my mother and I still do it sometimes, especially if it's a big occasion."

All roads lead to Europe

The left-footed winger, known for his power, speed and cool temperament, has long nurtured a desire to one day play in Europe. "That would be the ultimate for me, playing for some big club like Real Madrid, like my idol Roberto Carlos." Coincidentally, some commentators in Spain have been touting González as Roberto Carlos's natural successor. "Hearing that sort of thing fills me with pride and just makes me want to do better," he says, adding, "I'm only too aware that I'm still 19 and have a lot more to learn."

On the subject of Germany 2006, the player known as "Kid González" says: "I see myself playing for my country for a long time, but Germany is still a long way off. We have to stay focused on the here and now. We started our qualifying campaign badly, but we have been steadily improving."

Despite his rapid progress, González does not believe in overnight success. "It's easy for me to keep things in perspective as I have seen difficult times too. I went from having it all in South Africa to starting again with nothing here. My family also keeps me rooted, as they are very down-to-earth people. Everything I have achieved so far has come from sacrifice and hard work, and that's how I intend to continue. My goal is to improve every single day," says González. Chilean fans, no doubt, will be hoping so too.


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